John Holtum

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John Holtum was an oldtime strongman and circus performer born in 1845 in Dernmark. He lived an ordinary life until the age of 15, when he decided to become a sailor. Young John Holtum worked hard in shipyards and on deck, where he developed a strong, muscular body which he later became famous for. Several years later, John found himself in California working hard manual labor jobs in order to support himself. After that he settled in San Francisco where he started working as a professional strongman, performing basic feats of strength and showing his strong body.

Holtum eventually came back to Europe in 1870 where he got an idea of catching a cannonball as a part of his strongman act. Experts tried to convince him that something like that wasn’t possible, but Holtum was determined to try out this feat. As he tested different techniques to catch the cannonball, Holtum lost three fingers. Still, he continued to practice this life-threatening feat and after two years he finally mastered it.

John Holtum on a stage, catching a cannonball

John Holtum on a stage, catching a cannonball

This extraordinary feat never failed to impress the crowd and it required amazingly fast reflexes and strength. Holtum’s assistant on a stage would load the 50-pound cannonball into a cannon, while Holtum stands on the other side of the stage with nothing but a pair of gloves and a pad on his chest. When the cannon fired, Holtum would catch it with his hands, but drop it down quickly as the cannonball was very hot.

A promotional poster for Holtum's strongman act

A promotional poster for Holtum’s strongman act

There were many stories about this feat. Some say that he used way less gunpowder than what would be used in a battle or that the cannonball wasn’t as heavy as he claimed to be. Other mention that the group of experts was called on stage to confirm if everything is as he said it was. Eventually, Holtum offered to give 3000 francs to anyone who was able to perform anything remotely similar to this feat. You could guess – no one took up this offer.

Another interesting fact about John Holtum is that he became very charming and popular among ladies. At one point a group of girls created a petition to ban his performance, since they were afraid he would seriously injure his perfect body or even worse – meet the Grim Reaper. Against all odds, Holtum eventually retired and got married and managed to live until 1919 when he died of natural causes at the age of 74.

If you are looking to get into not so crazy feats of strength (but still very impressive!), make sure to check out this resource and start your free training.

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